Shhhhh….We’ve been very, very quiet in grade 9 this year with our Silent Sustained Reading (SSR) academic experiment in the college prep 9th grade class. 77 students were asked to read a minimum of eight (8) independent reading books of their choice as part of the curriculum, and to facilitate reading, students were provided 20 minutes twice a week (40 mins total/week) of SSR. Responses to the independent books were recorded later on blogs or presented in class.
The inclusion of independent student choice texts with the time made available for SSR meant a reduction in the number of whole class reads; four texts remained in the curriculum: Romeo and Juliet, Of Mice and Men, Speak, and selections from The Odyssey. Classroom libraries were augmented with high interest texts (used books in class) with support from the school library and Overdrive software to allow for a wide selection by students.
So, what were the results? At the beginning of the school year, students took a survey based on questions suggested in Kelly Gallagher’s Readicide. This week, (June 2012) the same students retook the same survey. In order to account for percentage differences in attendance and enrollments, results were also checked using a t-test calculator to determine statistical significance. While there was only little change in students viewing reading as “fun” or “easy,” 57% to 59% or a 2% increase in the affirmative, the other data gathered from the survey indicates a positive shift in the attitude of our students towards themselves as better readers coupled with an increase in time spent reading outside of class.
According to our September survey, 39% of our students rated themselves as “good” readers, 42% rated themselves as “average” readers, and 21% rated themselves as “poor” readers. The difference in June was very statistically significant (t-test) with 66% of students rating themselves as good readers; 30% of students rating themselves as average readers, and only 8% of students rating themselves as poor readers.
Responding to the prompt “I read independently every day and look forward to my reading time” in September; 9% of students responded “usually”, 35 % of students responded “sometimes”, and 56% of students responded “rarely”. However, by June, the difference in student attitudes her was also very statistically significant (t-test) with 19% of students responding “usually” (up 10%), 53% of students responding “sometimes” (up 21%), and 33% responding “rarely” (down 23%).
Finally, not only did the SSR program did increase the number of books read by students for class, students indicated (very statistically significant) that they increased the number of additional independent books they read over the course of the year. Students reading no addditional books dropped from 32% to 11% while students reading 1-2 books increased from 52% to 58%, students reading 3-4 books increased from 13% to 22%, and students reading over 4 books increased from 3% to 8%. These numbers complemented the finding of students who increased their overall “not for school reading/reading for pleasure” for 60 minutes or more (5%), for 30-60 minutes (17%) , and for 30 minutes or less (17%). The number of students who admitted to doing no additional reading dropped from 22% to 15%.
So what are the implications of this data? There are numerous studies that support independent reading for academic achievement. Students who read independently may also have an advantage as adults in the workplace. Author Stephen D. Krashen writes in The Power of Reading:
What the research tells me [about SSR] is that when children or less literate adults start reading for pleasure… good things will happen. Their reading comprehension will improve, and they will find difficult, academic-style texts easier to read. Their writing style will improve, and they will be better able to write prose in a style that is acceptable to schools, business, and the scientific community. Their vocabulary will improve, and their spelling and control of grammar will improve.
Additionally, high school is not too late to start an SSR program. Author Steven Gardiner defended the practice when he responded to questions about his book Building Student Literacy Through Sustained Silent Reading and discussed the use of SSR at the high school level:
On more than one occasion, I’ve started class by simply reading aloud. I didn’t explain what I was doing or why, I just started reading. They may be 15 or 17 years old, but they quickly get quiet and listen, trying to understand what is going to happen next, just like youngsters in story hour. They aren’t too old for reading aloud, and they aren’t too old for SSR. Most students are grateful for the time. When I look at changes in modern society, I understand why.
So do I. Our students occupy a digitally distracting universe: tweeting, texting, tethered to some instant communication that generates a almost compulsive nervous response. Carving out time, 10-20 minutes a class, for quiet SSR is necessary for students who need to focus when they read. Sadly, this may be the only time during a day when students read.
The significance of our efforts to increase our students’ independent and voluntary reading is addressed in the 2007 NEA report To Read or Not To Read: A Question of National Consequence:
Voluntary reading involves personal choice, reading widely from a variety of sources, and choosing what one reads. Aliterates, people who have the ability toread but choose not to, miss just as much as those who cannot read at all. Individuals read to live life to its fullest, to earn a living, to understand what is going on in the world, and to beneﬁt from the accumulated knowledge of civilization. Even the beneﬁts of democracy, and the capacity to govern ourselves successfully, depend on reading.
Our practice of good reading habits, SSR provided twice weekly with student selected texts, can lead to improved attitudes towards reading, and we now have the data to prove that one academic year of SSR has improved our 9th grade student attitudes towards reading. SSR will be included as an important part of our literacy efforts at other grade levels as well.